California Public Employees Unions Not Serious About Pension Reform

In a San Jose Mercury News column on public pensions, Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, a union coalition, and executive director of the California School Employees Association, argues that there is no public pension crisis, and offers some minor reforms the unions support that won’t do much to help.

“The condition of public pensions in California is not a crisis despite the best efforts of pension slashers to portray it as such,” says Low.  “Pension costs make up just three percent of the state budget, a percentage that has actually fallen $600 million over the past two years as collective bargaining has increased the share public workers contribute to their pensions and as funds have taken tougher lines on pension spiking.”

The truth is that the public employees unions have been dragged kicking and screaming toward even modest pension reforms.  Moreover, while the billions the state currently spends on employee pension and retiree health-care benefits is hardly chump change, the real concern is for the future.  California’s public pension and retiree health and dental care expenditures have quintupled since fiscal year 1998-99, from about $1 billion to $5 billion last year. Retirement spending is expected to triple again—to $15 billion—within the next decade.  Several academic studies in recent years have pegged the state’s unfunded pension liability in the neighborhood of $400 billion to $500+ billion (see, for example, herehere, andhere—see pp. 197-199), which translates to roughly $36,000 for every household in the state. And those figures do not even include $60 billion in unfunded retiree health-care liabilities.

Low’s article then goes on to list some bullet points summarizing Californians for Retirement Security positions.  They begin with a couple of non-controversial points about curbing pension spiking, curbing some of the most egregious pension benefits for “the small number of public workers—mostly senior officials—who have outsize retirement benefits,” creating a form of pension rainy-day fund, and reducing double-dipping by imposing a waiting period before retirees could return to take part-time jobs with the state.

But, as a report from the state’s bipartisan Little Hoover Commission noted earlier this year, California’s public pension situation truly is dire, and will require much more significant reforms:

In its study of public pensions, the Commission found that the state’s 10 largest pension funds – encompassing 90 percent of all public employees – are overextended in their promises to current workers and retirees. The ability and willingness of leaders to contain growing pension obligations should concern not only taxpayers who are seeing vital services and programs cut to balance budgets, but the public employees who have the most to lose. A pension is worthless without a job to back it.

The Legislature has the tools to put state and local public employee pensions back on a path that can restore stability and public confidence to state and local pension systems. Marginal changes, however, will fall short of the need for serious action. Adding a “second tier” of lower pension benefits for new hires, for example, will not deliver savings for a generation, while pension costs are swelling now as Baby Boomers retire.

In this report, the Commission confronts the elephant in the room: The legal obstacles that limit the options of state and local pension plans to reduce future, as-yet-unearned pension benefits promised to current workers. These promises, protected by decades of court decisions, were made under the illusion that the stock market returns of the dot-com boom were the new normal. After years of benefit enhancements, pay raises and government hiring sprees, the drop in stock and home values made it clear that the promised benefits are unaffordable and leave taxpayers facing all the risk as the bill becomes due.

While recognizing the legal challenges, this is a path that the state has no choice but to pursue. Public agencies must have the flexibility and authority to freeze accrued pension benefits for current workers, and make changes to pension formulas going forward to protect state and local public employees and the public good.

Low then offers some support for 401(k)-style, defined contribution retirement plans, but only as a voluntary option and only as a supplement to defined-benefit plans:

“We support expansion of voluntary worker and employer contributions into 401(k) type funds as a valuable way to supplement secure, defined benefit pensions. But we must ensure that retirement for public workers is secure and retirement systems are healthy. . . .  We adamantly oppose erosion of the present system’s central pillars:

  • “Defined benefit pensions must remain the core of the system. Those opposing the current public pension structure claim that the only acceptable option is a wholesale shift to insecure 401(k)-type pensions now prevalent in the private sector. Anyone with their pension savings locked into a 401(k) knows how precarious such a retirement plan is.
  • “Collective bargaining must remain central to the process. Pensions are part and parcel of a larger wage and compensation structure. Public employers and the unions that represent their workers must maintain the authority to negotiate over pensions.”

There is a reason that the private sector has shifted away from defined-benefit pension plans for the last 30 years and hardly any private-sector DB plans have been created in the past decade or more: they are simply too volatile and too expensive.  Just look at the “legacy” industries characterized by strong labor unions where DB plans persisted, for a time, at least.  First the steel companies went bankrupt, then the airlines, and, more recently, the domestic auto companies.  All were largely strangled by unsustainable pension obligations.

Now we are facing the same thing in state and local governments across the nation.  The difference is that the steel and airline and auto companies could not use the government to force people to pay more for their products so they could offer more and more generous pension benefits. (I should qualify this by noting that some of the airline and auto companies were successful in doing just this, in effect, by obtaining bailouts from the federal government.)

As for the collective bargaining argument, of course they want to preserve collective bargaining.  The public employees unions own the legislature and have close ties with the governor.  The collusion between unions and legislators is what has gotten us in to this mess, and naturally they do not want to lose the ability to make sweetheart deals.

The article then concludes by deteriorating further with a couple of silly arguments.  First is the ludicrous claim that the $12 billion CalPERS paid out to pensioners in 2010 “[stimulated] $26 billion in total economic activity and [supported] 93,000 California jobs.”  But the money paid out by CalPERS was the result of contributions paid by state workers and the government (i.e., taxpayers), as well as the investment gains earned on those contributions.  Clearly, if the contributions paid by employees and taxpayers had not been made for pensions, they would have been devoted to some other “stimulative” use.  In other words, if there is a stimulative effect from CalPERS payouts, there is also a de-stimulative effect from making those contributions in the first place.  Thus, the entire notion of CalPERS as some sort of economic stimulus programs is fallacious.

Finally, Low argues “The retirement crisis in America stems not from mostly modest public workers’ pensions but from the alarming deterioration of private-sector pensions.” Notwithstanding that the “retirement crisis,” and, indeed, the economic crisis in general, was caused primarily by government interventions in the housing market and other fiscal and monetary policies, this appears to be a form of argument I have heard many times from union members that goes something like this: “You in the private sector should strive to increase your pensions to our (public-sector) level, not bring our pensions down to the private-sector level.”  Unfortunately, this “logic” does not pass muster for two reasons: (1) money does not grow on trees and (2) there is no pension fairy.

In the private sector, people must produce something of value (revealed through the prices of goods and services in a competitive market) in order to earn their benefits and salaries, a portion of which they may devote to their own savings and retirement plans. In the public sector, there is no real pricing mechanism so decisions such as which government programs should be funded (and how much), how many employees to hire, and how much to pay employees in wages and benefits are made arbitrarily based on political considerations like special interest group power or the whims of legislators and bureaucrats. As noted previously, taxpayers can be forced to pay for these things through the imposition of taxes, whether they want them or not. Therefore, it is all well and good to say “Why don’t you just increase your own pensions to match ours?” but the answer is because, unlike the public labor unions, those in the private sector cannot force other people to pay more for their retirement plans, and, since their wealth is not unlimited, any attempt to do so would leave less money for salaries and reinvesting in businesses to allow for even more innovation and job creation (not to mention the fact that any forced wealth transfer would violate individuals’ rights).

See the full Low article here.  Then, for a more realistic analysis of the public pension problem and the differences in public-sector and private-sector compensation, see the following:

(Adam Summers is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation, where this piece first appeared.)

Jerry Brown, the Unions’ Governor

Since their inception, California’s government unions have found no greater ally than Jerry Brown. In fact, it was Jerry Brown who first authorized government employees to unionize in 1978 through the Dill Act. Since then, unions have pushed government spending on benefits and pensions to the breaking point. The self-interested unions have built a political machine of campaign spending that ensures their candidates toe the line once elected.

When Meg Whitman ran against Jerry Brown for governor last year, her detractors loved drawing attention to the large amount of money she spent in contrast to her opponent. They sought to portray Whitman as a Wall Street billionaire completely out of touch with common folk as evinced by her ability to drop lots of cash into her campaign, while Brown was her thrifty counterpart, spending very little and promising to do the same with the state’s purse. But in reality, Whitman and Republicans were downright paupers compared to the massive spending unions typically pour into their causes. Whitman was the rarecandidate who could try to match the unions’ war chest. It was no secret that Jerry Brown wouldn’t need to raise or spend the same amount of money as Whitman since his union attack dogs would more than match any check she personally wrote.

So it comes as no surprise (although the source is a bit surprising) that the Los Angeles Times has found Jerry Brown to be a very good friend to public employee unions. In fact, according to the article, “When the dust settled on Gov. Jerry Brown’s first legislative session in nearly three decades, no group had won more than organized labor, which heralded its largest string of victories in nearly a decade.” That’s right, it’s payback time for Jerry Brown and he knows exactly which special interest group to thank for his third term as governor.

Brown’s most blatant payback to the union was his approval of legislation that will move all initiatives slated for the June primary ballot to the November general election ballot. Political wisdom holds that turnout is lower in primaries and if the Stop Special Interest Money Now Initiative appeared on the June primary ballot, its chances of passing would be much greater since voter turnout amongst its supporters would be higher. Obviously unions are scared to death that such an initiative would cut their funding at the source since it would prevent corporate and union spending as well as employee payroll deductions for political spending.

This is the most galling example of unions and Democrats bending the political and legislative processes to their will without regard for the public good. It’s a shame Californians aren’t rising up and chastising the majority party and its union puppeteers for such abuse of the system. As long as the unions’ governor sits in the horseshoe and the unions’ lackeys control the legislature, there isn’t much hope the formerly-Golden State will pull out of its nosedive any time soon.

(Meredith Turney is a social and new media political consultant as well as a political commentator and writer.)

Placing the Blame on Dr. Conrad Murray

I feel bad for Dr. Conrad Murray, he of the marvelously tailored wardrobe, the exceedingly hot alleged mistress, and the hangdog mien of a man who knows that his trial is merely a prelude to a lengthy term in prison.

Dr. Murray, as everyone within range of TMZ, CNN, and the sound of Michael Jackson’s voice knows, is accused of killing Mr. Jackson by providing him with lethal doses of nasty-sounding drugs.

The good doctor is guilty of something, but not murder.  Stupidity, maybe.  What doctor would be dumb enough, or starstruck enough, to take on Michael Jackson as a patient?  Jackson was a murder malpractice suit waiting to happen.  When he finally died, the other 200 doctors who must have provided him the same, or worse, drugs, must have heaved sighs of relief big enough to blow a stiff breeze all the way to Neverland.  They all did the same crime, but they won’t be doing the same time.

Dr. Murray basically played medical musical chairs, and lost.  The music stopped and he had nowhere to sit down, except at a defendant’s table in a Los Angeles criminal courtroom.  He didn’t try to kill Jackson; he just took the family’s money and provided drugs.  Jackson’s own history of drug-taking was the real culprit; Dr. Murray was merely the not-entirely-innocent bystander.

But to incarcerate Dr. Murray, while not going after all the other drug pushers in Michael Jackson’s too brief life, is simply a manifestation of the age-old need to find a scapegoat.  Something bad happened; someone has to pay for it.  Why not the last doctor standing?

A Peanuts cartoon once showed Lucy, then Linus, and finally Charlie Brown all striking out in the ninth inning of a sandlot softball game.  “It’s all your fault, Charlie Brown,” came the inevitable cry, even though Charlie represented the last out and not all of the outs.  Same thing with Conrad Murray.

It isn’t Dr. Murray’s fault that Michael Jackson’s childhood was stolen from him; that he never had a normal life; that he took small children to bed with him to console himself.  Nor is it Dr. Murray’s fault that Michael Jackson hated his skin color, his nose, and, apparently, his own existence.

But somebody’s got to pay for it.

One wonders how much a doctor gets paid for being Michael Jackson’s personal physician.  I’m sure Dr. Murray’s fees have come out at trial, but it would be far too tiresome to search the record and find the exact amount.  I remember hearing that it was a very large fee, indeed.  Large enough, perhaps, to corrupt an otherwise upstanding medical doctor; certainly the Jackson family had established the going rate for that kind of transaction long ago.

Dr. Conrad Murray is indeed guilty of something.  He chose the wrong patient, cashed the wrong check, allegedly wrote the wrong prescription, and now he sits, morose and seemingly friendless, awaiting his show trial’s inevitable end.

Blinded by fame?  Tempted by fortune?  Guilty as charged.

But a killer?  No.  An enabler to a suicide, perhaps.  Michael Jackson took his own life.  It’s not fair for someone else to have to pay the price.

(Michael Levin is a New York Times bestselling author and runs www.BusinessGhost.com, America’s leading provider of ghostwritten business books.)

T2AR: The Second American Revolution

The American Revolution did not begin on July 4, 1776, nor did it end that day. The grievances of a people built over many years. King George passed the Proclamation of 1763 that stated colonists could not move westward over the Appalachian Mountains. In 1764, he passed the Sugar Act that led to the famous plea, “No taxation without representation”. In 1765, King George imposed the Stamp Act. The imposition of a heavy tax burden on the colonists by politicians far removed from their daily life was the precursor of what became the American Revolution a decade later. The revolution, whose seeds were planted in the 1760’s, did not end until October of 1781 when a peace treaty was signed in Paris, France.

The American people are in a restive state resembling the mood of their ancestors two hundred fifty years ago. In November of 2010, the American people voted in more than 60 new Representatives in the largest election wave since 1948. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on October 13, 2011, 74% of Americans believe the nation was “off on the wrong track.” If the election were held today, the Senate and the Presidency would flip to the Republican column in yet another “wave” election.

They say those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it. The similarities of the events leading to the first American Revolution have led the author to conclude that the Second American Revolution may have already begun. Neither the Proclamation of 1763 nor the Sugar Act started the first American Revolution. But, history reveals that these acts triggered a series of events that led to the “shot heard round the world” on the greens of Lexington and Concord a decade later.

A new series for The Californian Political Review entitled “T2AR” (The Second American Revolution) will explore the similarities of events a quarter millennium ago to the events unfolding today. This is the first article in that series.The author is convinced that history will record the 2008 Tarp and 2009 Stimulus bills that triggered trillions of dollars of unsustainable spending and debt are comparable to The Intolerable Acts of 1774. The fact that the Tea Party movement derived its name from the Boston Tea Party of 1773 is not coincidental.

(Robert J.Cristiano, PhD is the Real Estate Professional in Residence at Chapman University in Orange, CA, Senior Fellow at The Pacific Research Institute and President of the international investment firm, L88 Investments LLC. He has been a successful real estate developer in Newport Beach California for thirty years.)

Steve Jobs vs. Wall St. Whiners and Teachers Unions

Steve Jobs knew how to create wealth. The parasitic Wall Street protesters and teachers unions want to destroy it.

There are many theories as to who is orchestrating the “Occupy Wall Street” protests – known in some circles as “Kamp Alinsky” and “Kamp Kvetch” – in lower Manhattan and elsewhere throughout our country. George Soros? President Obama? Could they possibly be spontaneous?

No matter. The protesters and their message of social justice, socialism and general hatred of all things corporate will not affect the great majority of Americans. The average Joe and Jill are just trying to pay their bills, raise a family and live a decent life. Hence the Wall Street rabble, a motley combination of bored teenagers, old guard lefties and hard core partiers, many armed with iPhones, digital cameras and many other luxuries produced by corporations, are badly missing the mark. As usual, the protesters’ signs tell the story – none more so than the one that says, “A job is a right. Capitalism doesn’t work.” Could any serious types associate with this fringe mentality?

Enter Michael Mulgrew – the United Federation of Teachers president. Speaking “truth to power,” his tax-the-rich talk at a Wall St. rally fit right in with the angry mob that thinks wealth is evil and that if A has more money than B, A owes B some of it. It’s the mentality that thinks that there is no moral difference between Bernie Madoff and Bill Gates.

What the teachers unions really want is to make sure that every human being walking the planet who wants to be a teacher becomes one. Swelling the roles of the profession – competency be damned – makes the unions as rich and powerful as the corporations they hate for being rich and powerful.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten couldn’t miss the opportunity to throw in her two cents. As always, beating the victim drum, she whined about our country being on the wrong track and bemoaned the country’s “long term structural inequalities.” Whatever.

In highly ironic counterpoint, there is the much-too-early passing of the legendary Steve Jobs. One of the visionary founders of Apple Computers, the 56 year old Jobs succumbed to a long bout with pancreatic cancer last week. Jobs and Apple are perfect examples of capitalism at its best. The products Jobs was responsible for added quality and joy to the lives of millions of people around the world. Jobs was also responsible for helping to make many people wealthy – whether they were employees of Apple or just owned stock in the wildly successful company.

What is not known to many is that Jobs, who donated many thousands of computers to schools all over the country, had very pointed views about the American way of not educating our young. Here are just a few –

“I remember seeing a bumper sticker when the telephone company was all one. I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said “We don’t care. We don’t have to.” And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.”

“I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for forty-four hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school, several things would happen. Number one, schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting.”

(Referring to education reform) “The problem there of course is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.”

It is terrible. The above comments could come out of a modern day education reformer’s handbook. However, Mr. Jobs uttered these wise words in April, 1995 – and the past 16 years have done nothing to invalidate them. The unions are still the worst thing that ever happened to education and we definitely need more school choice.

Mr. Jobs understood that competition and capitalism make the world a better place. The teachers unions are a special interest whose narrow focus benefits the few at the expense of the many. Is it any wonder then that Mulgrew, Weingarten and other union bosses associate themselves with the anti-capitalist freeloaders, socialists and losers who have nothing better to do with their time than to spew hatred at Wall Street?

(Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.)

Dream Act? Dream On.

Jerry Brown just signed the Dream Act, which pays college tuition for illegal immigrants, for one of two reasons.  Either he sincerely believes that everyone in California deserves a shot at higher education, or it’s a craven sellout to political allies.

I say craven sellout.

We’re talking $14.5 million to fund the Dream Act, according to the Los Angeles Times, which is money the state doesn’t have.

What about my kids’ dreams of going to college?  My wife and her family waited their turn and immigrated legally to this country 29 years ago.  My mother’s family did likewise in 1946.  So why are we forced to reward people who jumped the line?

It’s not a racial issue.  It’s a money issue.  If we had all the money in the world, then open the borders, let everyone in, and build enough college campuses so that everyone who wants a California college education can have it.

But if that’s your dream for California, then dream on.  We can’t afford it.

We can’t even afford to fix the 405, let alone open a new diamond lane straight from the border to the college classroom.

We can’t afford to keep in prison all the offenders who shouldn’t be on the streets, and who will soon be released to go back to do what they do best:  commit crime.

We can’t afford to offer schoolchildren classrooms where they don’t need binoculars to see the front of the room.  Laptops?  At 40+ kids per class, they’re practically sitting on each other’s laps.

We can’t afford to pay for the jacked up retirement costs for state “workers” who, in typical public employee fashion, rack up overtime and other pieces of added income in their last year or two of work so that their bloated pensions have little to do with what they actually earned.  Or deserved.

I don’t think there’s a single conservative soul in California who truly wishes ill on  the college-age children of illegal immigrant parents.  It’s just that if the state can’t pay its own bills, why should it pay the bills for anyone else?

I have a dream.  It’s not as bold and spectacular as that of Dr. Martin Luther King, but it’s all mine.  It’s that California pays only for what it can afford, that people abide by the law, that if they break the law they are punished accordingly, and that Sacramento ceases to be a place governed by the backroom deal.

Well, Aerosmith might have been singing directly to me.

Dream on.

(Michael Levin is a New York Times best selling author and runs www.BusinessGhost.com. )

Undermining California (and American) Competiveness: Gov. Jerry Brown Approves National Science Standards – Fuzzy, Anti-Truth, & Mathless

On Oct. 8, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law SB 300, which approves the forthcoming national science-curriculum standards and lays out the path for California to put them into effect beginning in 2013.

It is hard to think of something that could be more important than teaching the subject-matter of science well. California and American K-12 students need to learn science content that is the most rigorous in the world, and teachers need to teach K-12 science in the most effective way possible.

If Americans are going to create feats of engineering, invent cutting-edge technologies, make scientific discoveries, and work in a scientific-technological workplace, our students will need a science curriculum with a rigor and effectiveness as good as or better than that of top-performing foreign countries.

The brand-new law says that California’s science standards are to be based on those being created under the auspices of the federal government’s National Research Council (NRC) – but are as yet sight unseen.

I see three problems with the policy contained in California’s new law. The first is that the law would replace California’s top-rated current science standards instead of updating them.  The second is that the National Research Council has a history of promoting “fuzzy” science. The third is that the law furthers the nationalization of curriculum that is currently taking place across the country — but under the radar of most parents and taxpayers.

California’s current science-curriculum standards were written under the supervision of nuclear scientist Glenn Seaborg.  Seaborg was a Nobel Laureate in chemistry, chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, chair of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission), member of the “Nation at Risk” commission, president of the American Chemical Society, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, discoverer of 10 elements, and adviser to 10 presidents, from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton.

Governor Brown wants to discard Seaborg’s standards for pig-in-a-poke standards written behind closed doors by as-yet-unnamed science educators — who are not going to be as knowledgeable and expert as Seaborg.

California’s science standards were given an A-rating (on an A-F scale by) by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  California got 97 out of 100 per cent, according Fordham’s reviewers, and its score was the highest rating of any state science standards in the country.

The Fordham review summed up by saying: “California has produced an exemplary set of standards for school science; there was no question among readers about the “A” grade.”

So the question naturally arises, why not just update the matters that need updating after a dozen or so years. The answer lies in the yearning of Progressive educators for “fuzzy science” and the drive under the administration of President Barak Obama to nationalize the public-school curriculum.

“Fuzzy science” is also called “discovery-based”or “inquiry-based” instruction, though it might better be termed excessively inquiry-based. The notion is that students will make scientific discoveries and construct scientific theories and ideas of their own with minimal guidance.  This view of learning is sometimes called “constructivism.”

Contrary to those who hold this view, it is in fact crazy to expect K-12 students to reconstruct the scientific knowledge that scientists have accumulated over thousands of years. This is a method of teaching that objects to acquiring knowledge based on facts, disdains memorizing formulas and definitions, and resists mastering standard problem-solving techniques.  In essence, inquiry-based instructions is the old Progressive Education approach of learn-through-play and follow-what-interests-the-student dressed up in new jargon.

The NRC has a long record of promoting fuzzy science. In 2000, the National Research Council published “Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards,” which – as the title suggests — promoted “inquiry” as the best way to teach K-12 science.

Back in 1996, the NRC had published the “National Science Education Standards.” Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said at the time: These standards are “science as inquiry-based learning. And that’s a major revolution.”

Inquiry, as laid out the NRC’s 1996 science standards, may only be inquiry “into authentic questions generated from student experiences.” Hence, such NRC-style inquiry, as physicist Alan Comer wrote, is “very different” from traditional laboratory-based science, in which “students learn to systematically use methods and equipment appropriate to ends determined by the curriculum.”  Here in the NRC’s earlier standards, we see an example in a new guise of the idea that teaching must follow-what-interests-the-student.

One has to conclude that the NRC has a history of proposing science curriculum that is based on discovery-learning and against learning facts and formulas.  This method of teaching is not only wrong-headed; it has never been proven to be better than traditional subject-matter content and traditional teaching methods.

What are these new NRC new national science-curriculum standards that Governor Brown has committed California to? They don’t exist yet and will surely be somewhat different from the NRC’s 1996 standards.  But there is evidence that the same spirit of “inquiry-based” Progressive Education will persist.

University of Virginia biologist Paul Gross has reviewed (for the Fordham Institute) the new NRC framework for its national science standards. He wrote that the new framework frequently writes about “scientific inquiry” and overlapping concepts. Gross notes that according to the NRC framework students will be taught that inquiry is an aspect of science to be distinguished from scientific facts.

But Gross asks what is “the evidence for [inquiry’s] separability (pedagogically speaking) from facts”? His answer: Such evidence is “thin to nonexistent in modern cognitive psychology.” In its devotion to Progressive Education’s inquiry-based learning, the NRC wants to impose on America’s classrooms an approach that isn’t backed by research psychology.

Gross criticizes the NRC framework for – like the NRC’s 1996 standards – not letting go of the subjectivist, “postmodern” view of how science really works.  The 2011 framework relies on postmodern works of the 1980s and ‘90s that argue that scientists (and science as a community of scholars) cannot discover truth (that is, what really exists and is going on).

Instead, according to postmodernists (whom the new NRC framework references), “truth” is what influential people and power-wielders have imposed on society and enforced as culturally acceptable. The new NRC framework suggests that how-science-works should be taught to students not as a search to find out reliable truth about nature, but instead as power-brokerage and influence-peddling.

Judging by the framework for the new national science-curriculum standards, they will shun the concept of objective scientific truth and will instill Progressive Education teaching methods.  To add insult to injury, the framework also promises teaching of science without using analytic mathematics.

Ze’ev Wurman, who worked on the California Mathematics Framework and the California Standards Commission, reviewed the new NRC science framework and zeroed in on the difficulty:  The framework does not expect students to use analytical math in any K-12 science problem.

Brown University biologist Michael McKeown writes: “Only one formula or equation in [the NRC framework’s] 280 pages? So much for physics at even the simplest level. Chemistry is out. Imagine making solutions, doing dilutions, doing pH changes with out basic math skills.”

Why is the NRC science framework (and hence the forthcoming national standards) mathless? Math teacher Barry Garelick suggests that Progressive Educators believe that the quantitative aspect of science is “inauthentic,” so they don’t think it is valuable and won’t include it.

The result is, Wurman says, that the NRC science framework “simply teaches our students science appreciation, rather than science.” It expects America’s students to become “good consumers of science and technology,” rather than teaching them what is necessary for them to be the “discoverers of science and creators of technology.”

Having established that the forthcoming national science standards are going to deprecate mathematics, will be unfriendly to the idea of scientific objectivity, and will be locking in Progressive Education – we can turn to why these standards are “national.” (Previous curriculum standards have been developed and put into effect at the state level.)

What has happened is that some people have thought that America should have a European-style Ministry of Education at the national level, where the national government sets curriculum for all public schools and tests all public-school students.  These people have been working to accomplish this for a long time. They reflexively believe that civic problems are best managed at the national level, and loss of local control is an insignificant price that citizens should happily pay.

These national aggrandizers pay lip service to social science, but the evidence does not show that countries with national curriculums do better that those with regional or state curriculums.

The NRC is part of the federal government, and its creation of the science framework and its sponsorship of the national standards themselves are welcomed by advocates of nationalization of K-12 schooling.  Federally-sponsored national science standards, like the national math and English standards, are a big step toward full nationalization in the European mode.

This nationalization is proceeding apace, under the radar of state legislators, members of Congress, taxpayers, and parents.  It’s important, it deserves to be better known, and it deserves a broad public debate.

Bill Evers is a research fellow and member of the Koret K-12 Education Task Force at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development (2007-2009).

Nancy Reagan nixs son Michael’s U.S. Senate hopes

Conservative chateratti and internet sites have recently been abuzz with the possibility of Ronald Reagan’s oldest son Michael running for the U.S. Senate against Diane Feinstein next year.  That will never happen and here’s why – Nancy Reagan would publicly oppose Michael if he ran.

While you’re reaching for the smelling salts or adult beverage let me assure you that I have this information from exceptionally reliable sources.  I spoke to someone possessing a rock-solid long history with members of the family and 24-karat GOP political and Reaganite connections.  This source spoke to someone exceptionally close to Nancy, someone with essentially unlimited access to her.  The message was loud and clear – Nancy was horrified at the thought of Michael running for U.S. Senate and would “do anything she could” to derail that prospect, even endorse another candidate.

The animosity does not surprise anyone familiar with the long-standing non-relationship between Mrs. Reagan and Michael, her husband’s adopted son, however Nancy’s willingness to go public with her opposition is something of a stunner. Whatever else one might say about Nancy, her number one concern is her husband’s legacy.  That she doesn’t think having her husband’s son in the United States Senate would contribute to that legacy says quite a bit about myriad familial topics.

Before conservatives get too irate with her, they might ask themselves a few questions:  what has Michael really done to preserve his father’s legacy?  Michael is heir to a name that is magic in conservative and Republican circles – a name still warmly remembered by the vast majority of American voters.  What has Michael done with that inheritance?  Where is the political infrastructure to preserve his father’s “banner of bright, bold colors”.  Where is the 527 or post-“Citizens United” “superpac” to boost conservative candidates around the country?  I don’t know the answer to those questions…but the fact that the answers do not leap to the forefront ought to soften umbrage that conservatives might otherwise feel toward Nancy.  And it might even explain some of Nancy’s concerns about Michael.

Rather than trying to read the pigeon entrails of Reagan inter-familial relations however, Nancy’s decision raises a more important topic for California Republicans – who WILL oppose Senator-for-life Feinstein in 2012?  I have two modest suggestions – Dennis Prager or Jim Rogan.

Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host – articulate, conservative and Jewish.  He is “Reaganesque” in this sense – he can present hard core conservative beliefs is easily understandable and completely non-threatening sound bites.  He would start with at least some name I.D., most particularly in the vital Southern California media markets. He talks for a living, so assuming DiFi’s handlers were actually able to prop her up long enough to participate in a debate, Prager would rip the bark off her.

Former Congressman, now Judge, Jim Rogan would enter the race with instant GOP celebrity status. While Prager is well known in Southern California, Rogan is well known to a broad network of Republican donors and activists nationally who remember that Bill and Hillary Clinton made Rogan’s defeat their number one objective for the 2000 election. (For the memory-challenged, Rogan served as one of the House managers of the Clinton documents of impeachment). Additionally, my source told me that Mrs. Reagan declared that she would be enthusiastic about a Rogan candidacy and a likely pre-primary endorser.

Rogan raised seven million dollars for his 2000 re-election, and while it was all for naught that number is an indication of his national fund-raising potential. He shares with Prager an ability to discuss hard core conservative positions in ways that are not the least bit threatening or off-putting.  He also shares with Prager the problem of needing to earn a living – neither are independently wealthy, and both would have to quit their day-jobs upon announcing for the Senate.

That could be overcome with “consulting” jobs if the GOP national money-machine was convinced that either had a real shot to capture this Senate seat. I believe that either of them could, but one of them is going to have to take a first baby step in that direction, or their friends will have to do it for them, and there is little time to spare before filing starts for 2012.

Perhaps unfortunately for her peaceful retirement, even into her 90s, Nancy Reagan’s still powerful presence on the national scene remains in the news, even in odd ways.  Just a week or two ago the New York Times published a story feed to them by one of Chris Christie’s cheesier New Jersey managers that she personally pleaded with him to run for President after he gave a speech at the Reagan Library on September 27.  The story was not true, and it took nationally syndicated columnist George Will, who is friendly with both Christie and Nancy Reagan, to root out the facts: Nancy likes Chris Christie, but she definitely did not plead with him to run for President and she laughed at the idea when Will asked her about it.

But while she has yet to say anything to the press about it, and at best it is currently good tabloid fodder and cocktail chatter, Nancy Reagan really, really doesn’t want Michael in the Senate.  So fans of Dennis Prager and Jim Rogan – start your engines!

 

California, the Example of What the Nation Could Become

I want to welcome this groundbreaking scientific expedition to the savage lands of the Left Coast.  You are here in California to answer an important theoretical question and now you have your answer.

Yes, this is what Barack Obama’s second term would look like.

Study it.  Fear it.  And then go home and make sure that it never happens to the rest of the country.

Of course, in spite of all of its problems, California is still one of the best places in the country to build a successful small business.  All you have to do is start with a successful large business.

Laugh if you will, but as you whistle past this cemetery, do heed the medieval epitaph:  “Remember man as you walk by, as you are now so once was I; as I am now so you will be.”

Mark that well, because if we lose this struggle for the future of our country, you too someday will live in a California – only without the nice climate.

Bad policies.  Bad process. Bad politics.  Those are the three acts in a Greek tragedy that tell the tale of how, in the span of a single generation, the most prosperous and golden state in the nation became an economic basket case.

When my parents came to California in the 1960’s looking for a better future, they found it here.  The state government consumed about half of what it does today after adjusting for both inflation and population.  HALF.  We had the finest highway system in the world and the finest public school system in the country.   California offered a FREE university education to every Californian who wanted one.  We produced water and electricity so cheaply that some communities didn’t bother to meter the stuff.  Our unemployment rate consistently ran well below the national rate and our diversified economy was nearly recession-proof.

One thing – and one thing only – changed in those years: public policy.  The political Left gradually gained dominance over California’s government and has imposed a disastrous agenda of radical and retrograde policies that have destroyed the quality of life that Californians once took for granted.

The Census bureau has reported for the better part of the decade that California is undergoing the biggest population exodus in its history, with many fleeing to such garden spots as Nevada, Arizona and Texas.  Think about that.  California is blessed with the most equitable climate in the entire Western Hemisphere; it has the most bountiful resources anywhere in the continental United States; it is poised on the Pacific Rim in a position to dominate world trade for the next century, and yet people are finding a better place to live and work and raise their families in the middle of the Nevada Nuclear Test Range. [Read more…]

Occupy Congress, Not Wall Street

Unfortunately, they are in the wrong city, targeting the wrong enemy.  The “Occupy Wall Street” protesters should have focused  on Washington, D.C., rather than New York from the beginning; pushing to replace crony capitalism with capitalism rather than attacking capitalism, the only real hope for progress.

The protestors have only a semi-coherent set of complaints.  Some objections focus on big business; others on the government bailouts they (particularly financial institutions) have received; still others on greed.  And there is some validity in their objections (I too object to the massive government bailouts and takeovers). But the common catch-all term for what they object to—capitalism–is incorrect, and therefore their “solution”—more political control, just of the “right” kind, would  actually be a move in the wrong direction.

The protestors seem to miss the irony of their position—they object to others being bailed out, but not themselves, and to what they consider other people’s’ greed, but not their own.  They are also misled by a major Marxian confusion about capitalism. The result is that they don’t want to eliminate the crony capitalism system of special government favors at others’ expense; they just want to become the cronies who control those favors.

These thoughts struck me because, yesterday morning, I went from reading an article about the self-styled “99 percent” to the introduction to The Morality of Capitalism (2011) , a slim book of essays edited by Tom G. Palmer.  Even though it was written before the protests began, Palmer seemed to capture the essence of what the protestors fail to understand about capitalism and, therefore, why their calls for more government control are misguided.

Palmer does an excellent job of correcting misunderstandings about capitalism.

“Far from being an amoral arena for the clash of interests, as capitalism is often portrayed…capitalism rests on a rejection of the ethics of loot and grab, the means by which most wealth enjoyed by the wealthy has been acquired in other economic and political systems…[where]  those who are rich are rich because they took from others…because they have access to organized force… Such predatory elites…feed at the state treasury and they benefit from state-imposed monopolies and restrictions on competition.  It’s only under conditions of capitalism that people commonly become wealthy without being criminals.”

“Capitalism is about creating value…The market—and not arrogant mercantilist politicians—shows us when we are adding value, and without free markets we cannot know.”

“Capitalism is…about adding value through the mobilization of human energy and ingenuity on a scale never seen before in human history, to create wealth for common people that would have dazzled and astonished the richest and most powerful…of the past…It’s about the replacement of force by persuasion.  It’s about the replacement of envy by accomplishment.  It’s about what has made my life possible, and yours.”

Palmer also locates the source of people’s confusion about capitalism in a failure by Marx to distinguish between it and crony capitalism.

“In some texts Marx used [capitalists] to refer to those innovative entrepreneurs who organize productive enterprises and invest in wealth creation, and in others he used it to refer to those who cluster around the state, who live off of taxation, who lobby to prohibit competition and restrict the freedom to trade; in brief, to those who invest, not in creating wealth, but in securing the power to redistribute or destroy the wealth of others…[He] confused productive entrepreneurship and market exchange with living off of taxes taken from others…’capitalism’…was used equivocally to refer to both free market entrepreneurship and to living off taxes and government power and patronage…”

“’free-market capitalism’ should be clearly distinguished from ‘crony capitalism’…

“Sadly, ‘crony capitalism’ is a term that can with increasing accuracy…be applied to the economy of the United States, a country in which failed firms are routinely ‘bailed out’ with money taken from taxpayers, in which the national capitol is little more than a gigantic pulsating hive or ‘rent-seeking’ lobbyists, bureaucrats, politicians, consultants, and hacks…[who] take it on themselves to reward some firms and harm others.  Such corrupt cronyisms shouldn’t be confused with ‘free-market capitalism,’ which refers to  a system of production and exchange that is based on the rule of law, on equality of rights for all, on the freedom to choose, on the freedom to trade, on the freedom to innovate, on the guiding discipline of profits of losses, and on the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labors, of one’s savings, of one’s investments, without fearing confiscation or restriction from those who have invested not in the production of wealth but in political power.”

““People create relationships based on choice and consent.…Embracing free-market capitalism means…accommodating change and respecting the freedom of others to do as they please with what is theirs…embracing the freedom to create wealth which is the only means to the elimination of poverty…celebrating human liberation and realizing human potential.”

The Occupy Wall Street protestors justifiably object to abuses our government has imposed on the rest of us for its favored cronies.  But they are mistaken to blame the cronies rather than the government that “rents out” its power to use on their behalf. The abuses would disappear without government’s coercive backing.  Further, they are incredibly naïve in calling for more government intervention, with them as the new cronies, because those who aren’t well-informed, don’t vote, don’t contribute to politicians or mobilize resources on their behalf, and aren’t organized into an effective lobby, will not win political control over crony capitalism.

As Tom Palmer points out, if America was actually allowed to be capitalist, the fact that all such relationships are based on mutual consent, and are therefore mutually beneficial, would prevent all the abuses of some by others.  The legitimate claims of the protesters would be addressed.  As a result, the solution is not to try to redirect crony capitalism in their preferred direction, stealing for them rather than from them.  The solution is to reestablish capitalism, and once again unleash its now hamstrung cooperative miracles to improve all of our lives.

(Gary Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University)